Chef Luke Dale Roberts’ The Shortmarket Club restaurant the first Corona Virus victim, in closing for good!



Yesterday Chef Luke Dale Roberts messaged past guests of his The Test Kitchen, The Shortmarket Club, Commissary, Salsify at The Roundhouse, and The Pot Luck Club Restaurants, to stay in touch with them, and to request a donation for his staff from his past diners, in a SMS message probably sent via the Restaurant Group’s dining reservation system. It announces the closing down of The Shortmarket Club, and alludes to the same fate for The Commissary. 

Chef Luke’s message is confusing in that it was sent out on 1 April, a date one can never trust but this is too serious a matter and he too serious a chef to have played the fool in choosing to send his message on this date. Yet he refers in the message to ‘today’, being 24 March, a week prior to the date of sending it out to past diners.

In the message he shares with diners what he has done before Lockdown, placing his restaurants into a self-quarantine because of the large number of foreign diners his restaurants attract, on 17 March, the first restaurant group announcing its temporary closure, intended to have been for a ten-day period, but the Lockdown began just as his self-imposed quarantine period ended, leaving Chef Luke no option but to keep the restaurants closed.

The chef also writes about the food they bought for staff, mainly maize meal eaten by his African staff, from a video which was posted.

Chef Luke also states that his staff will receive a maximum of R3500 per month each from the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF). I’m following a large restaurant What’s App group, and have seen that staff at different levels may be able to claim more than the base amount, up to R17000 for a manager. While we do not know what Chef Luke pays his staff, it is the tips that waitron staff will be sorely missing.

What confirms the closure of The Shortmarket Club specifically is that Chef Luke writes that he has retrenched his staff and will assist the staff of this restaurant in finding new jobs, at a time when every restaurant in our country will be on its knees financially once the Lockdown locally as well as internationally comes to an end.

Given that Chef Wesley Randles was leaving the restaurant at the end of March anyway, to pursue a new life with his family, it probably made sense to close this restaurant first. One wonders if The Commissary will follow, being located next door to The Shortmarket Club, and hardly a serious restaurant, not being in the league of the rest of his restaurant group. In his SMS message Chef Luke does not even refer to The Commissary.

This is the SMS I received yesterday:

Dear guest.

I would like to send you all my sincerest wishes of strength, courage and determination during this difficult time. Please take care of yourselves and your family.

We in South Africa are on a nationwide lockdown from Thursday 26th March.

I started The Test Kitchen in 2010 with a very small family of 5 employees. Over the years, our small business has grown to 4 restaurants comprising of The Pot Luck Club, the Shortmarket Club and Salsify at the Roundhouse. Our family has become bigger too, count prior to the COVID-19 pandemic stood at 203 employees.

We already closed all our restaurants on Monday the 16th of March to ensure the safety of our staff and patrons. We did this as a mandatory annual leave break and it was paid at full rate.

The government has offered to pay a flat fee of R3500 to each member of staff per month for the duration of this “State of Disaster”.

We as a company have purchased 2.5 tons of basic dry goods to assist the staff whilst we are closed. In addition, the company has pledged to offer additional help, where possible, to our employees living in challenging conditions.

I would like you to consider donating to the welfare of our staff and their families.

Today (24 March 2020) I must address the team at The Shortmarket Club and retrench all of them as their simply is no money left after we pay them their full departure packages. I will honour my pledge to my staff, to find every last one them work when this nightmare passes.

We have a trust within our organization that is dedicated to the welfare of our people. It is called The Naturalis Trust.

I implore you all to give in this time of need and with your help we can all get through this and start again. 100 % of the funds will go to our staff.

You can do this by donating here. Each R100 donation makes a big difference.

Many thanks and stay strong and healthy.



The short media statement announcing the immediate ten-day quarantine closure of The Test Kitchen Group restaurants on 17 March follows below:

CHEF Luke Dale Roberts and his senior management team have made the decision to self-isolate all their restaurants and their respective employees for the next fourteen (14) days. This will come into activation as from this afternoon and post lunch service. “With the country’s President’s announcing a National State of Disaster due to the COVID-19 virus, we feel that you should know that the well-being of our guests and employees remain our top priority. A great percentage of our clientele are travellers from around the globe and as such, it is best that we temporarily close shop and do our part in stemming the current health crisis”, comments Luke Dale Roberts.

The Test Kitchen, The Pot Luck Club, The Shortmarket Club and Salsify at The Roundhouse are planned to re-open on Monday , 30th, however, a final decision on this will be made on Friday, 27th. “While we haven’t had any members of staff travelling to and from affected areas and have naturally cancelled all travels to and from these areas, our staff are advised to refrain from any travel at this time”, comments Luke further’.


The restaurant industry will see a drastic shake-out after the Corona Virus Lockdown comes to an end, it being financially on its knees after a tough 2019 winter, and a less than good summer season just come to an end, when restaurants reopen in winter, traditionally a bad time for restaurants. It is the multi-restaurant operations that will feel the Corona pinch the most!


Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: Tel +27 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@Ulmenstein Facebook: Chris von Ulmenstein Instagram: @Chrissy_Ulmenstein


Please follow and like us:
Tweet 27k

WhaleTales Blog


We don’t spam!

Read our privacy policy for more info.